October 7, 2003 -- Terri Spencer competed in her first Ride & Tie this weekend: she was convinced to try it by her riding instructor. Spencer's been trail riding and doing a little gymkhana for the past four years. She runs too, but never like this. And she'd not ridden on an English saddle until Saturday.
Kirsten Seyferth rides in English style saddles all the time. She's an endurance rider with nearly two thousand competitive miles to her credit. Seyferth, originally from Germany, had never competed in a Ride & Tie until Saturday, but she had heard about it, and everyone who had done it told her it was a great time. She thought the variety of running and riding, the team aspect of having a partner with whom she shared a horse, all sounded totally crazy, unusual, but fun.
Marina Cassimatis' riding background is with Hunter-Jumpers, three-day eventing, and dressage. She hasn't been doing much riding in years. Vet school took up too much time. Now she practices in Palos Verdes and competes in triathlons. But another vet at the practice convinced her to try it, and she too was at the starting line for her very first Ride & Tie this weekend.
In the sport of Ride & Tie each team consists of two people and a horse, with the people trading off riding the horse and running. Exchanges are frequent as the team leapfrogs across the course. Each of the competitors interviewed for this article admits to some form of "running" activity this year: from a jogger, to 5K races. As first time competitors in Ride & Tie, each coming from very different equestrian disciplines, I asked what surprised them the most about this sport.
"How hard it was" according to Spencer. "What bad shape I really am in." While she works out most days of the week, her running hasn't included hills until now. Nor did her training include sand. Spencer quickly added that the difficulty has already inspired her to train for her next event. She's planning on getting her regular running partner to join her in some hill work. "It was a lot of fun and I look forward to doing it again"
Seyferth was surprised at how well her horse drank " He never drinks so well on an endurance ride." Veteran Ride & Tie competitor Tom Gey told Seyferth that he believed it was the stop and go pace of the sport. "It gives the horses time to think, and they take better care of themselves". She was also surprised at how well she weathered the race. Seyferth had been worried about staying hydrated, and getting sore: neither turned out to be problems.
What surprised Marina Cassimatis the most was the fast pace, and how calm the horses were about being tied, and being passed by other horses while tied. "I knew my partner Mike was competitive, and I wasn't going to let him down. I wasn't going to let the horse down, and I wasn't going to let Mike down."
The hardest part for Spencer was when tiring from the running began to affect her riding. "It made me less confident on the horse" she reported.
For Cassimatis "It was hardest near the end, when I was getting fatigued in the saddle. Then the transition from riding to running became harder".
Seyferth claimed it was getting harder to climb on the horse in the last couple of miles. Possibly her horse Slim (14H2) was getting taller as the race unfolded.
Both Seyferth and Cassimatis started the race late: a full seven minutes behind the lead teams. When Cassimatis' partner informed her that they were in second place, but probably couldn't catch the first place team in the time remaining, she was both surprised and excited. She had no recollection of passing the other teams, and didn't realize they were so well positioned.
Seyferth knew exactly where her team was: an experienced endurance rider, she had been tracking the other competitors. She figured they were doing pretty well when, with a seven-minute handicap, they were passing runners and riders. "Can you tell I am competitive?" She asked her partner, over her shoulder, as Slim carried her away at a canter.
Spencer had been enjoying the day, and chatting with Seyferth as they jogged along. Suddenly she thought, "Maybe I shouldn't be chatting" when she realized the two were in hot contention for first place in the woman/woman team category.
The heat of competition turned up a notch in the last few miles. With Seyferth's partner issuing instructions, strategy suddenly came into play: exchanges quickened as runs and rides were shortened to take advantage of the last bit of energy each retained. Spencer and her partner were flying up behind, using the horse to outrun the competitors they knew they couldn't beat with foot speed. Then the clincher: Spencer's stirrup leather gave; the stirrup went spinning in the trail dust, and the title with it.
"I think we might have found the perfect sport." Said Seyferth, even before the exciting race to the finish. "Slim loved it. He had a blast. And so did I."
What is the most fun about this odd, equestrian, extreme, team, ultra running sport?
"The whole thing was fun," replied Cassimatis. "Now that I've done it I want to do it again."
"It was a lot of fun," said Spencer. "I look forward to doing it again."
"The whole thing was fun," claimed Seyferth. "Having a little team. Supporting each other. The communication, teamwork, the fast pace. You never do anything for more than five minutes, then you change." She thought for a moment and then concluded "If runners saw what we were doing they would probably say 'what a loon!' and if a dressage person saw it they would think 'they are crazy!' but part of the fun is that you lose your conventional worries. You don't care what you look like, or what people think of you. You are giving it your best."
Editor's Note: for full race results, more information on the sport of Ride & Tie, a schedule of upcoming events, and advice on how you can get started in the sport, visit the website at www.rideandtie.org or call the Ride and Tie Association at (650) 949-2321.